Jonas Gustavsson’s highly anticipated first NHL start was a losing one, but he showed some calmness in a position where the Toronto Maple Leafs have rarely developed players.
The rookie goaltender, known as “The Monster,” made 26 saves on 28 shots.
While this was Gustavsson’s first NHL start, his first career appearance came in the final two periods of the Leafs’ 6-4 loss on Saturday night in Washington. The Swede allowed three goals on 19 tries.
Gustavsson’s first period on Tuesday produced seven stops, including a 15-footer by Alexandre Picard that opened the game.
The best saves of the period for the young goalie were a pair of consecutive chances from winger Jonathan Cheechoo and defenceman Anton Volchenkov, with the rebound testing his recovery ability.
Ottawa’s first goal came in the second period on a scramble that saw Gustavsson down on his rear.
After making the initial stop on a two-on-one, Ottawa kept the puck in tight until Shean Donovan chopped the puck out of mid-air and into the net.
Ottawa’s second goal came shortly after in dramatic fashion when Gustavsson got a chance to face Daniel Alfredsson on a penalty shot.
The Senators captain deked to his backhand and roofed the puck over the sprawled netminder for the eventual winner.
Leafs head coach Ron Wilson didn’t blame Gustavsson for either goal.
“Alfredsson made a great move on that penalty shot, and the other one he couldn’t do anything on that,” Wilson said. “They got a little lucky on that, [Gustavsson got] unlucky.”
Ottawa continued to press on the power-play that followed the penalty shot, but Gustavsson held his ground.
In the third, the Swedish netminder made a heads-up play to reach out and poke-check Chris Neil with the shaft of his stick when a quick pass in the Toronto zone saw the forward in alone.
Moments later, a Luke Schenn giveaway left Milan Michalek in very close, but Gustavsson was in position to make the stop.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have not developed many goaltenders who became true starters in the NHL.
In fact, the last goalie to begin his career in a Leaf uniform and become a starter was Felix Potvin, who appeared in five games in 1991-92 before making the jump to becoming their number one guy for the next six seasons.
Others who have become a team’s starting goaltender not as a result of injury include:
- Damian Rhodes, who played his first game for Toronto in 1990-91. He would go on to become a starter for the Ottawa Senators in their first playoff series win as well as being the first number one netminder in Atlanta Thrashers history.
- Ken Wregget made his first appearance with the Leafs in 1983-84 and after being traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for two first-round picks, would split time with Ron Hextall as well as Tom Barrasso in Pittsburgh.
- Ron Low began as a rookie on the 1972-73 Leafs, playing 42 games before becoming the starting goalie for the expansion Washington Capitals.
The list’s briefness only further drives home the point that the Leafs could benefit from a goalie that they themselves developed, albeit only partially so in Gustavsson’s case.